Monthly Archives: February 2016

bottle of walnut oil alkyd oil paint medium and a bottle of safflower oilI needed a solution for painting without solvents so I turned to M. Graham's Walnut Alkyd Medium, an Artists' Oil Medium. There are several options out there but this is one of the products I have on hand.

I'll be doing an oil painting demo at a sci-fi fantasy convention in a few weeks. When I paint in my studio I have more control over the ventilation but at the convention there will not be any windows to open, no good way to refresh the air, and the space I'll be painting in is fairly small.

I usually use Gamblin Odorless Mineral Spirits(OMS) because they say it has the lowest evaporation rate of the artist OMS currently available. But still, I can smell it as well as the Galkyd Lite. Both contain petroleum distillates. I decided painting without either of these products would be best choice in this situation for myself and others in the space. I chose to try M. Graham's Walnut Alkyd Medium. I've been meaning to give it a shot for a while so now seemed like a great opportunity. I like it for what I'm going to use it for.

Dry time.

white unicorn head on a light blue background painted by christine mitzuk painted in oils with walnut alkyd medium
Unicorn Head Study

The paint plus the Walnut Alkyd Medium dries slower than when I use Galkyd Lite but that's ok. I'm not on a deadline. When I use Galkyd Lite my paint is usually dry in about a day or less, but I don't trowel on the paint.

I made this unicorn study last Saturday (about 4 days ago). Sunday the paint was still a bit wet. Monday the blue was dry to the touch, but the yellows mixed with white were tacky, and the whites were wet. Tuesday the yellowish areas were pretty much dry and the whites were tacky. Today (Wednesday) it is all dry to the touch.

If you want to know the colors. I used : Gamblin flake white replacement (just because I had it lying around) Winsor & Newton Mars Violet Deep (I had been wanting to try this color for a long time), and Yellow Ochre, Daniel Greene Naples Yellow and Manganese blue (got the last 2 on clearance ages ago. Not my favorite Naples yellow but it's a nice color).
If you want to know the colors. I used : Gamblin flake white replacement (just because I had it lying around) Winsor & Newton Mars Violet Deep (I had been wanting to try this color for a long time), and Yellow Ochre, Daniel Greene Naples Yellow and Manganese blue (got the last 2 on clearance ages ago. Not my favorite Naples yellow but it's a nice color).

This time I used Gamblin's Flake White Replacement which is Titanium dioxide and that seems to dry a bit slower for me. I could be applying it thicker than the other areas.

I like the consistency.

For my more finished paintings I like to be able to blend colors, have crisp or soft edges where I need them, and not leave many peaks of paint. The medium helps thin the paint down and allows me to blend a little easier. It made my painting fairly shiny all over. There is one spot that's a little dull so either I didn't use the same amount of medium in that spot or that's where I touched the painting to test for dryness. I'll go over it again with a glaze of some color and walnut medium to even out the sheen.

Easy clean up.

photo of a silicoil brush cleaning jar with safflower oil in it
I have several brush cleaning jars. This one is a Silicoil with Safllower oil (with a tape label describing what's in the jar). I have another with odorless mineral spirits in it (OMS), and still another with cooking oil in it. I don't use them all, all of the time but when I've tried something and kind of like it, why throw it away? The jar of OMS seems to work best for cleaning brushes I've used with Galkyd Lite.

I didn't use solvent for clean up this time. I wiped any excess paint off my brushes with a paper towel like I usually do. Then cleaned out the remaining paint as best I could in my Silicoil jar filled with Safflower oil. Then I washed my brushes with brush soap and water. For the convention I'll just clean my brushes in the safflower oil and wash them when I get home.

Why safflower oil? It's relatively inexpensive and it's a painting oil. I could have purchased some walnut oil or poppy oil but at the time I bought it it was the least expensive painting oil. Why not use the walnut painting medium to clean my brushes? Because it has alkyd added to it which is a dryer and I don't want to goop up my brushes. Why not use regular old cooking oil for clean up? I certainly could do that. In fact I've tried that in the past and I was able to get the oil paint out of my brushes but I had to wash them really really well when I was done (they felt slimy after the first soapy wash). Cooking oil isn't a painting oil, basically it doesn't dry. If I got any of that cooking oil in my painting, it wouldn't really dry well or it would remain tacky.

Side note: when I worked at an art supply store a customer came in with a problem. He had used cooking oil as his painting medium and it wasn't drying so he was hoping to make it dry after the fact.

Other Products

The only other solvent free painting I've done was with the Solvent-Free Gel by Gamblin. I used it on a plein air study. It was great because it was portable (I have a tiny tube). For the plein air study I liked it because I retained my brush strokes of a fairly heavy application of paint. The final study is very glossy though. Maybe I used too much of the medium. I'll have to try it again some time.

Gamblin also has a Solvent-Free Fluid which I haven't tried yet. I've heard good things about it from another artist so maybe I'll give it a shot at some point.

If anyone knows of other mediums or ways to reduce solvent use, I'd love to hear about them.

Happy painting :)

Edit 05/07/2016: ideas for solvent free painting are from Gamblin and from "The Painter's Handbook Revised and Expanded" by Mark David Gottsegen, published by Watson-Guptil Publications/New York, 2006.

logo for the robo show by light grey art labLast Friday I went to the opening night of The Robo Show at Light Grey Art Lab. I just can't stop thinking about it, I think it's one of the best shows they've put on. The range of types of robots portrayed is broad and each piece is a delight to look at.

There are personal robots, futuristic robots, war bots, silly and serious robots, organic bots, metal bots. They packed a ton of creativity into the space!

If you can take a look in person, please do. If not, they have also posted the images on their site and prints are available through their online shop.

I also really like how they display the art. None of it is framed. It's all printed on high quality Epson paper and gently attached to the wall with what look like tiny little magnets.

page from artist sketchbook by christine mitzuk with notes from stephan orsak
Here's a page from my sketchbook during the workshop. Stephan made some notes in different colored inks (one of the tools he uses in his own journals) to show iterations.

Keeping an artist journal or sketchbook can be tricky sometimes. Or maybe it feels like a difficult, lengthy chore. Stephan Orsak shared some insights into the artist journal and making it a fun part of the creative process in a recent workshop.

I'm not a consistent scribbler. I'd like to incorporate it into my process and I realized I had some obstacles in my way. Stephan Orsak offered a workshop in January titled "The Artist’s Journal: The Quiet Link Between Idea and Masterpiece" through The Atelier so I gave it a shot. It was worth the time and money and I hope he runs it again so more people can take it.

Some of the things he showed us were examples of sketchbooks from the likes of John Singer Sargent, Pablo Picasso, and Constable

Sargent doodles (you can browse the Harvard Art Museums collection, search for Sargent Sketchbook):

Pablo Picasso:
I can't seem to link to a specific image so go here and search for sketchbook, sketch, or journal

John Constable:
Stephan pointed out this one for how Constable treated the people; they're just dots.

Some Takeaways from the Workshop

I have a lot of unwritten rules that I've accumulated about what an artist journal ought to be. A lot of them are getting in my way and can be trashed. Now I need to figure out how to trash them or overwrite them.

Artist sketchbooks don't need to have "finished", "beautiful", "perfect" works. They can be messy. They can be clean. They can be more of an incubator for ideas, a workshop to experiment, a place to put quick observations or little bits of ideas. (I like the idea of it being an incubator and a place to note random thoughts or observations).

Artist sketchbooks can be anything and contain anything that is useful or of importance to each individual artist.

It is O.K. to play, explore, ask "what if?", or "if this then what?". Trying out different options. Instead of drawing what is, maybe ask "what could it be?"

A drawing doesn't have to be OF something, it could be an experiment with mark making, just scribbles.

Stephan suggested asking (and I'm paraphrasing) "what's important to you about the thing you're seeing? What about it makes an impression on you?" and then "does it seem like a line would translate the idea or tone or a combination of the two".

Putting something down on the paper doesn't need to take an hour. It can take 5 minutes or less.

An artist sketchbook doesn't have to be shared.

Thank you Stephan. I hope you do the workshop in the future so more folks can benefit from your findings and explorations.

Gesture figures study done in soft pencil on paper.
Gesture figures study done in soft pencil on paper.

Want to draw more human figures from life? Here's a list of some figure drawing co-ops, and one portrait co-op in and around the Twin Cities. These are all unguided drawing opportunities (no teacher). This is the information I've collected as February 2016. I haven't been to all of them so can't vouch for their awesomeness or lack thereof. At the very least this list can act as a starting point for folks looking for places to study the human figure. Be sure to check out their sites for information about location, if equipment is supplied or not, and anything else of interest to you.

Banfill-Locke Art Center in Fridley
When: Wednesdays 10:00 am - 12:30 pm
Cost: around $10 per session
Here's a link to the February calendar
Here's a link to a description

MCAD in Minneapolis
When: Mondays 7:00 - 9:00 pm, or Sundays 1:00 - 5:00 pm
Cost: varies but as of this post it's generally under $10 pr session
I've been to this in the past. It's pretty good. Read more about it and see their price list on the MCAD site

The Art Academy in St. Paul
When: Sunday Nights 6:00 - 8:00 pm
Cost: $10 per session
The Sunday co-op is with the nude figure and every 3rd Sunday of the month they have a costumed figure.

Florence Hill Drawing Co-op Studio 103, NE Minneapolis
When: Every Sunday, 2:00 - 5:00 pm
Cost: $7-$10
California Building, 2205 California St. NE, Studio 103, Minneapolis, MN 55418
I've been to this one in the past. It's pretty good and there are a lot of regulars. Florence is very welcoming.

Portrait Co-op (ran by Frank Wetzle and Tom Wolfe)
When: Saturdays 9:30 am - 12:30 pm
Cost: $10
I've been to this in the past. It's pretty good. Frank is a friendly guy and takes time to adjust the pose for the lighting to describe the face. Same studio as Florence Hill's co-op, Studio 103 in the California Building. You can email Frank for more information:
Frank Wetzel

Saturday Long Pose Figure Co-op
When: third Satruday of each month, 2:00 - 5:00 pm
Cost: $10
This is organized by Tom Wolfe and takes place in the same studio as Florence Hill's co-op, and Frank's portrait co-op, Studio 103 in the California Building. You can contact Tom for more information and to be added to his mailing list for the the long pose sessions:
Tom Wolfe

Minnesota Figure Study Collaborative @ The Traffic Zone
When: It appears to be every Wednesday. They have a morning session and an afternoon session.
Cost: $18 - $165 depending on if you just drop in or subscribe for a full 10 weeks. You can check out their site for more information.

The 331 Club hosts the Dr. Sketchy's Minneapolis branch
When: every 4th Sunday of the month
Cost: $10, tips welcome
This one will not be for everyone's comfort level. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this it's a combination of burlesque performance and drawing co-op. As they put it "Dr. Sketchy's is what happens when cabaret meets art school". Learn more about it on their page (note, possibly not safe for work, depending on your work).

GPS Figure Drawing Salon
When: third Monday of every month. The next one is Mon Feb 15, 2016, 6:30 pm - 9:30 pm
Cost: $5-$10
The GPS Arts Initiative holds a monthly 3-hour Figure Drawing Salon the 3rd Monday of every month in the Event Horizon classroom (106A). The session includes short, medium and long poses. . RSVP to the event on Meetup for updates (e.g. weather cancellations) from the organizer and to get the address. I've been to this one and it's small but the organizer does a pretty good job of using the space. GPS stands for Geek Partnership Society.

1121 Jackson St. NE #106A, Minneapolis, MN
The Waterbury Building Room 106A
Minneapolis, MN

For questions email

On your computer
When: whenever you want
Cost: a small donation if you're so inclined
Personally I don't think anything beats studying from life but sometimes a person just can't. This site is a pretty handy resource if you can't make it to a co-op. The photos are pretty good though there is some distortion to some of the figures so watch out for proportions when drawing.